Half disco, half Gospel, few hits, and encored with "The Greatest Love Of All". The day before the Queen Of Soul Aretha Franklin buries her Goddaughter, Whitney Elizabeth Houston, she joined us to "reminisce and enjoy ourselves."
The evening began at 845pm with the Aretha Franklin Orchestra, including a ten piece brass band and three back up singers, vamping thru snippets of Franklin's vast repertoire. Meanwhile, Aretha was midstage facing the band, when she turned round the audience went crazy. That was a great, not really an entrance, but it was fun. And Aretha launched into a fine, party hard "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher"". A lively, intoxicated version, the first half of the show were filled with the spirit of dance and play. But also, the spiritual, the song itself needs barely a tweak to become a spiritual.
By the second song, a speeded up "Day Dreaming", it became clearer still that Aretha had come to have fun -the jazzy ballad was speeded up and Aretha tore into it with gusto. Earlier this week, Aretha had explained to ABC Network how some people need to grieve alone and some people need to grieve with other people. Aretha needed us and in return she performed like a woman possessed by the Holy Spirit.
The first half of the concert was a relentless party buzz broken up by a masterful "I've Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You", perhaps the best version of the song I've ever heard, with an extended coda that veered straight to Gospel testifying and never left. Aretha's voice was beautiful, really strong, really powerful. It left nothing at all.to be desired . The first half ended with "Natural Woman" and again an extended, stunning, close that felt a lot like closure.
Indeed, it was one of the few times Aretha dipped into her catalog of hits tonight. No "Respect", no "Freeway Of Love" . I didn't miss those but last time I saw her, Aretha pulled out a couple of excellent Curtis Mayfield covers, we did get "Giving Him Something He Can Feel" but I absolutely did miss "Sparkle"
45 minutes in Franklin left to change from a lavender to a white dress while Bishop Carlton Pearson prayed for Whitney and along with the New Jersey Mass Choir sang "Farther Along. Aretha came back on stage, incredibly introduced Clive Davis from the audience, claiming his importance to Whitney's career. Not only was it not the time, but also Chaka Khan had just gone on the record, calling Davis out for continuing his Pre-Grammy party while Whitney lay dead a couple of floors below him. If you've read Alyson Camus's post, you'll know that some people have made much worse claims. So for the record, the Houston family doesn't agree.
Aretha than joined the Pastor in a "Precious Memories" so beautiful and so deep, it was a direct reflection of being downcast and uplifted at the same time. If Franklin wanted to find strength, or give strength, she did so. This was very important, it was a distillation of the human soul. It is why the conversation of life after death is irrelevant when it comes to matters of the soul. To able to express so much beauty and so much feeling: to take grief and tear its seams: this is beyond any question of anything but the final greatness of mankind.
And then she told us to shop at Walmart! Aretha's current single "When A Woman Falls Out Of Love" is only available there. And it is pretty good as well.Then she introduces LA Reid from the stage, later she would introduce Jesse Jackson who has been with Cissy and the family since Whitney's death..
And then she goes to her piano and while playing the motif to "I Will Always Love You" eulogizes her God-Daughter. "I'd like to acknowledge the passing of one of the finest and greatest singers who ever stood in front of a mic with kindness. grace, smiles, and a dynamic performances. She has moved on up higher and we don't wonder where she is. One of her last songs was "Yes Jesus lives inside m". And if God is for you who can be against you? Remember the hits and forget the misses. I'll always remember her saying I will always love you…" And Aretha sang the chorus to Whitney's biggest hit. By the way, I may have screwed up the quote a little.
A terrific "Bridge Over Troubled Water" followed with a finale that seemed to come from Aretha's very soul as she improvised mixing concerns about her operation (I think) with stuff about "I know the doctor will be there" and almost hallucinatory images of an ascension.
Aretha ends the set with "Spirit In The Dark" and ends the concert with "The Greatest Love Of All"..
Music, religion, grieving, more music, transcendence, hope, memory, faith, soul . Some people need to mourn in private, Aretha had said. Some people need to mourn with people. Aretha needed to mourn with people.